Queen Mother Of Tennis


To me your pants are your own. And you only wear pants just because it’s your own business, see? And a woman’s behind isn’t very pretty anyway. Of course, people don’t wear petticoats any more. But there is something about, when these people serve nowadays, seeing their pants or seeing their waistbands—it’s hideous.

Even for tennis? Even for an active sport?

The only time I countenance it is for skating. Skating is a different story, but in tennis it just isn’t decent. I get so mad at it!

Except for the clothes, what do you think about todays women tennis players?

Oh, I’ve got great admiration for them all; they’re all wonderful players. So long as they’re feminine—that’s the only thing that bothers me. I think you can be a great player and still be feminine. When tennis began to get so professionalized, I will admit I had a few qualms. I have a few qualms now, and when things happen that I don’t think are too ladylike, I think, “Why do it? Why sink so low?”

Such as what, Mrs. Wightman? What kind ofthing has happened that you feel is unfeminine?

I don’t want to put my finger on anything special, see, but I have been pleased that it’s avoided going low. I’m a long way from tennis now except my one foot in a tennis group here, but anything that goes on out there touches me. And I think that’s why I’ve had so much pleasure, and also why sometimes I’ve suffered.


What do you think about the whole movement today to make women’s tennis just as important as men’s? For instance, Billie Jean King’s insistence on equal treatment for women? How do you feel about that?

Well, I don’t think Billie Jean can do any different. Because Billie Jean has come a long way that way. I knew her when she couldn’t hit a ball. I knew her when she got beaten every time she stepped on the court, and I also saw her when she swore. I didn’t like it, and I kept telling her. I said, “Billie Jean, please don’t do it, don’t swear when you miss a point.” I said, “Men swear, but women don’t swear.” I said, “If you miss a ball, who’s to blame?” I never could make her realize the difference between a lady out in front of four or five hundred—a thousand—people, swearing, and a man swearing.

What about her insistence that women players get paid as much as men?

Well, I’m all for her, and she has the right motive, although myself, I don’t believe any woman should be paid as much to play tennis as any man.

Why is that? Do you think men are just better players?

Well, they are stronger. They’ve got longer legs.

In terms of the spectators, do you think people enjoy watching women’s tennis as much as they do men’s?

People enjoy watching women’s tennis more than men’s.

Why is that?

Because they can understand it better. Women have naturally more grace, more rhythm, and they don’t hit the ball so hard. Therefore it isn’t so quick, so hard to watch. People can learn more from watching women play.

But in spite of that you don’t think they should be paid as much as men?

I’ve felt that women don’t spend as much energy, they don’t have to work as hard as men; and, well, I just have always felt that no woman is capable of earning as much money as a man tennis player. I guess maybe I haven’t thought enough about it.

As for yourself, have you ever made any money out of tennis in any way?

Oh, no, no, I couldn’t. But I give these women today credit for coming along. And I think Billie Jean has done a mighty good job to keep at it the way she has.

Did you see Billie Jean’s match with Bobby Riggs?

Oh, yes. Nobody enjoyed it more than I. Bud Collins [the television commentator] had sent a car to take me over to his studio to talk about it. So whatever he asked me I answered. I must have sounded awfully stupid. He said who did I think was going to win. At that time I’d seen Margaret Court play him [Riggs], and I’d seen Billie Jean never rise to any great occasion by that time; and whereas I wanted her to win like nothing at all—I’d have given anything in the world to have her win—I couldn’t say I thought she would. And yet when she got to playing good tennis that night, outplaying Bobby, no one was happier than I.

She played beautifully, didn’t she?